In America, I definitely thought way too highly of my digestion skills. Turns out, I am a pansy. I got food poisoning after only a few days in country and have continued this fun game of “will this make me sick?” throughout the past few months. I don’t think I am playing by the same rules as the rest of Senegal because, let me tell you, I’m losing. Food poisoning in America is definitely a shit show (pun intended), but in Senegal it’s a whole different story. Picture Death himself riding a motorcycle with chainsaws for wheels in your innards.
Like I said in my last blog, I am learning Wolof. This allows for a lot of miscommunications when it comes to food. During the first three months in country, a group of four volunteers were placed in a village together for training and we stayed with a temporary host family. Everyday, when we were not in language classes or working in the fields, we got to meet Senegalese people and try to communicate with them. If you think I sound like an idiot in English, know that I am basically a vegetable in Wolof. My host mom, Soda (other fun Senegalese names include Taco and Ass), had all the volunteers over one afternoon for tea and miscommunications. James, another volunteer in my site, tried to tell my mom she could make tea. Mën naa attaya. We had only learned this phrase in passing, however, and instead she said, “mango attaya”. My mom gave us a look that said something like “I’m just going to back away slowly and come back when there’s less dumb crap,” and then went into the food storage room. After a few minutes she came out with four mangoes and a knife. From then on, every night, Soda and I shared mangoes by moonlight. It was probably the most intimate relationship I have ever had with someone.
After a few months, I moved to Keur Demba Kebe, a bustling metropolis of approximately 128 Senegalese and one American. There have already been two births since I moved in so I think it’s fair to say that the people of KDK know how to PAAAARTAAAYY! Every morning, I wake up with a mouthful of sand (I’m a catch, really) and go out to greet my family. Most mornings, I look like I got attacked by a weedwacker on bath salts and they are not afraid to tell me. Women here are incredible skilled at conveying their thoughts using nothing but their eyebrows. The neighbors usually say something like, “She’s crazy. Let’s go,” in complete silence.
My host mom cooks all of our meals over a little fire in our yard. This fire is located in between the horse and chickens and pigeons and centaurs and sheep and lizards. If I had a penny for every time I was dive-bombed by a pigeon, I would have enough money to replace the chair that another volunteer broke while trying to escape the dive-bombing pigeons (looking at you Melissa). Needless to say, cooking on top of manure is not the best way to avoid getting sick but is one of the only options available to us. Somehow, despite all the obstacles, my host mom still manages to make some pretty delicious rice and fish. That woman is a goddess and I don’t know how she does it.
During meal times, my neighbors join us and we all eat around a communal bowl with our hands. There is a rule in Senegal: eat and greet with your right hand and wipe with your left. This means sitting next to kids is a risky business. My sister, Fama, eats with her right hand but is ambidextrous when it comes to total destruction. I, on occasion, rub my stomach and tell it to hang in there for a couple more years.
On the hole, Senegal has been a blast. 😉